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Valentin's Nightmare
2005-02-16 12:00
by Jon Weisman
Note: The Dodger Thoughts blog has moved to the Los Angeles Times.

For all the grief that Hee Seop Choi has endured in his brief Dodger career, Jose Valentin has gotten off easy.

Not that Valentin has been greeted with any kind of excitement. In fact, the most favorable reactions have ranged from cautious optimism about him as a platoon player to simple tepidity. But the acid rain that fell on Choi for his two months of .531 OPS (against a career average of .785, an average that has risen each year of his short career) has missed scarring Valentin.

The 35-year-old shortstop, in fact, has a career OPS (.773) lower than Choi's and tracking downward each of the past four seasons. In particular, Valentin had a post-All Star Game OPS in 2004 of .618 that, amazingly, virtually matched the much-derided Choi's (.616) - if it wasn't worse, given the park factors involved.

A left-handed hitter, Valentin performed better against right-handed pitchers in 2004 (.801 OPS vs. righties, .666 vs. lefties), a difference that is even more profound if you include the past three years (.838/.530). The same logic that tells you it rained because you washed your car might lead you to believe that Valentin's second-half decline in 2004 came because his team, the Chicago White Sox, overplayed him against left-handed pitchers.

Sadly, that's not the case. Here are Valentin's statistics from July 1, 2004 through the end of the season:

Vs.        AB      Hits    2B      HR      RBI     BB      SO  BA  OBP SLG     OPS
RHP     153     24      3       7       13      15      44  .157        .244 .314    .558
LHP     75      13      3       6       12      6       27  .173        .234 .453    .687
Total   228     37      6       13      25      21      71  .162        .241 .360    .601
(Thanks to David Pinto of Baseball Musings for helping me get these figures. A blurb by Brendan Roberts at The Sporting News.com triggered my inquiry.)

Valentin was awful every which way - particularly so against right-handed pitching, which the Dodgers are counting on him to face at least at the outset of the 2005 campaign.

As with Choi, you must always take sample size into account while judging a player. On the other hand, Valentin's second-half features more at-bats than Choi had, and it comes attached to a player who has been declining for most of the century.

Perhaps with a fresh start, Valentin will rebound. Or, perhaps he is the hitter's Derek Lowe - someone that general manager Paul DePodesta has figured will take unique advantage of Dodger Stadium. But at a minimum - and some will take this as faint praise, indeed - it's hard to understand why anyone would fret more about Choi than Valentin. If Antonio Perez or Norihiro Nakamura can't pick up the slackity slack, the Dodgers might have a bigger offensive gap at third base than they even appear to have at catcher. Certainly, the Dodgers appear better off at first base than they do at third.

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